Notes on Falz' This is Nigeria: It's Brilliant!

This is Nigeria

It is likely that many Nigerians listened to and watched Childish Gambino's This is America with what I'd call an appreciative apathy. It's an eloquent essay on what it means to be black in America with imagery that borders on the grotesque, but however well put together, or however well executed, it is not Nigerian. Although we watch the news and sigh whenever racism rears its ugly head, that story is not ours. The blood that has been spilled is not that which pumps through our veins. It is a tragedy but it isn't our tragedy. This is important to remember when you think about Falz' This is Nigeria. Yes, it is derivative, and yes, it lacks the careful choreography of a slick Hollywood production, but those things take very little away from the value of what has been put forward.

Of course, because it is by Falz' own admission an adaptation, it cannot escape being criticised within the template set by the original. However, I would argue that this is the most basic form of criticism anyone should levy against it. The audience This is Nigeria is created for cares not for the original and if they do, no matter who, This is America cannot speak to our lives the same way This is Nigeria does. It may have been different if both were created 2 decades ago, when Western music perhaps had more sway on public opinion than Nigerian music, but this is not the case today.

In the beginning I wondered why Falz didn't make something entirely new - he clearly has the talent for it. I imagine that the lines had sat in his head for years. At the very least I do not think that any one who lives in Nigeria could ever be short of inspiration in this regard. Our suffering is generations long. But, what you must realise is this: had he created an entirely new song, with its own undoubtedly original video, he would have missed a window and indeed an opportunity. It wouldn't have seized the imagination the way it has. I wouldn't have gone up to Mama Afam and asked what she thought about it, because she quite frankly wouldn't know. And this is why any reference to This is America must be forgiven or even ignored.

Some may question the lack of an overarching narrative or message. This is America quite clearly tells black men to get their money regardless. But the same message is not applicable here for our problems are many and the solutions are all chicken and egg equations. There is no singular aggressor. There is no one tyrant. The issues play out like a battle with a hydra. For every head you cut off 2 or 3 sprout in its place. And even if you were to cut off one head and burn the stump, you'd still have 8 more heads to deal with. The song does point to a central problem at the beginning, a recording of a speech by Falz' father which says, "we operate a predictory neo-colonial capitalist system which is founded on fraud and corruption." As one pundit puts it, "Nigeria doesn't really have any new problems. We have new symptoms. The problems are all old, from before you and I were born."

With every headline you read in these parts, from the money swallowing snakes and monkeys to the many atrocities committed by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), to the many headlines with numbers of the dead, our sense of apathy increases. I once said, in Nigeria all you can do is watch as the fucks you give simply bleed out of you. At the very least with this song and its derivative video, Falz has re-ignited the national conversation in a way that I have not seen in my lifetime, at least, not through music. And maybe, like all the conversations that came before it, it will end as collective murmurs of dissatisfaction which lead to nothing by way of change. But, every time we talk, one person among us grows closer to acting, and this is why our seemingly ineffective grumbling must continue.

I know a writer with whom it seems I will never agree, especially when we talk about Falz. Something can only be called mediocre when it is compared to other things in its category. It seems that after decades of silence, with Nigerian art sometimes trying and more often than not failing to evoke some sort of emotional response about the state of affairs in the country, someone has succeeded. Such a thing can never be called mediocre. It can only ever be brilliant.

Happy Days,

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